The pace of Youngstown State’s offense was highlighted earlier this week by WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who noted that fans will see a diametrically opposed game tempo on Saturday as opposed to last week's sprint against Missouri. The Penguins might not totally dawdle at the line of scrimmage, but their run-first attack, consisting of options, sweeps and general clock-eating snaps are likely to keep the visitors much closer to 60 plays than the 100 which Missouri reeled off. That’s important for a couple of reasons.
First, West Virginia must be patient. Defensively, it can’t bust its scheme (more on this below) in trying to force the action. It has to emphasize assignments. And most importantly, it has to tackle well. There’s nothing worse than getting guys in the right position and then missing the takedown. That’s followed by a dragging walk back to the huddle, and usually three more plays to face.
This also extends to the offense, where the tendency might be to go for more big plays after a spell of sitting on the sideline. Of course, Holgorsen can control this to some degree with playcalling, but there are options to be had on many of West Virginia's offensive plays, so the patience factor also extends to Skyler Howard. He's shown excellent decision-making as his career has progressed, and he'll need to keep on that path in this game.
Finally, WVU and its fans can't get tied up in the score, or the margin, or statistics. The numbers, as mentioned above, could be substantially different than those of a week ago, but might not necessarily indicate a difference in play. The Mountaineers might totally dominate play and win 30-13, which would probably be unsatisfying for some. They might also hit a few big plays and score more, but give up more total snaps due to the differences in the way drives played out. (WVU could also lose, but we're not going to talk about that.)
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As we discussed the line shifting and replacements for the injured Yodny Cajuste earlier this week, our Brian McCracken pointed out that Adam Pankey had played tackle before, and that a move back outside from guard might be an option for WVU. That proved to be prophetic, as Pankey, who initially played out on the edge before moving inside, was mentioned as a potential backup there.
That's an item to watch in the Youngstown State game, because it will set the path for the Mountaineer line going forward. Sylvester Townes, who is listed as the backup at tackle on the depth chart, has never been able to forge his way into the scrimmage line rotation, and has only seen late game and special teams duty during his time on campus. Josh Sills, who makes his first appearance on the chart on the opposite side, is just a freshman, and was likely slated for a redshirt before Cajuste's injury. That could still happen – the estimate from here is that if WVU needs a backup outside, it will go with either Townes or Grant Lingafelter, if it elects not to slide Pankey out wide. However, that latter appears to be the top option at this point, and is an item we'll be monitoring closely during the game.
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Our “Best Win in the Series” segment isn't up for much debate this week, as the Mountaineers and Penguins have met but once. WVU grabbed a 27-7 win over YSU in 1938 during an otherwise forgettable 4-5-1 season. Notables from that year included the first singing of the WVU Alma Mater (very good), and the fact that all five losses in that season came via shut out (pretty bad).
In fact, WVU's points against YSU on Oct. 29 marked the last time the Mountaineers lit the scoreboard for almost a month. West Virginia didn't score again until Nov. 24, when it eked out a 7-6 win over George Washington. WVU scored a total of just 98 points in that campaign.
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Blitz? How do you blitz a run heavy team? The all-out rush is usually thought of in terms of opposing passing attacks, but West Virginia will also try to disrupt the Penguins' (still love that nickname) ground game by bringing defenders into gaps and pushing for backfield penetration.
The difference in blitzing against the run is that run fits, or maintaining gap integrity, is even more important than when sending an extra rusher or two against the pass. Granted, in today's world of mobile QBs, accounting for running lanes off the pass is important, but against the run a breakdown can really be critical. Fail to account for a gap, and if its the area where a running play is designed to go, or the ball carrier can find it quickly, and he's gone.
WVU did a good job with this against Georgia Southern last year. The Eagle ground attack was very good, and featured lots of option looks that demand gap discipline. West Virginia executed so well that it shut out the visitors, establishing a benchmark for a very good defensive season. While YSU isn't so committed to the option, it will run some of that, and will certainly try to get WVU to over-pursue and miss assignments. This is definitely an area to watch on Saturday – keep an eye out for multiple defenders in the same gap, and if it happens, hope that's not the area the play is heading for.
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Today's hashtag-centric, contract-everything language trend makes for some strange-looking “words”. Thus it is with the Youngstown State Athletic Department, which chooses the jarring “#GoGuins” as the tag for its social media posts. Gwins? Gweens? What's wrong with just “Penguins”? Are two syllables too much?
That's a heck of a long way from #Brangelina.
And while we're at it, get off my lawn.
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